The Real Food Guide

6 ways to help manage ADHD… in your kitchen


Manage ADHD in your kitchen

Editor’s note: Please welcome nutritionist Karen Ryan from The ADDvocates. Karen specializes in non-medicinal ways to manage ADHD. The only thing I’d like to add to Karen’s insightful post is that food intolerance can be a factor in behavioral issues, so if your child has ADHD, you may want to consider monitoring his/her food intake as a cause for specific behaviors. 


ADHD carries a stigma which has parents reeling at the onset of diagnosis. What parents don’t know, though, is that ADHD is not a death sentence whatsoever. Any negative connotation associated with those four letters should be thrown out the window. Instead of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, it should read Actively Delightful Hopeful Dreamers. These children are not disordered, it is the broader social and educational influences that create the disorder.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a general term frequently used to describe individuals that have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) without the hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. The terms ADD and ADHD are often used interchangeably for both those who do and those who do not have symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

As a nutritionist, I have researched ADHD immensely and I am a true believer that medication is not the answer and should not be the first resource that parents go to. ADHD is such a multi-faceted condition that it deserves a multi-faceted approach, the most important being nutrition. ADHD is not caused by bad parenting, television, too much sugar or playing video games, it is, simply, something which someone is born with: a child who has ADHD grows into a teenager who has ADHD who then, in turn, grows into an adult with ADHD. It cannot be outgrown but there are several steps that can be taken to minimize its effects on a person – the main one is nutrition.

Now, I am not going to tell you to run out to Whole Foods and purchase only organic, gluten-free vegan food items but what I am going to tell is you to be extremely mindful about what you’re eating and feeding your family. Proper nutrition plays a complementary role in a child’s treatment for ADHD and when a child’s or teen’s diet is balanced and healthy, their ADHD symptoms will be better controlled. It is also important that when you change the diet of the person with ADHD, make the changes for the entire family.

Here are 6 tips help manage ADHD the next time you go grocery shopping:

1. No food dyes …. ever!

Unfortunately, nutrition labels in North America don’t have to state if there are any dyes in their product so it is up to the consumer to do their research. Food dyes aggravate attention problems so focus becomes a clear issue at home, at school and at work.

2. Refrain from cooking, baking or eating refined sugars and flours.

Read the labels carefully and if sugar is one of the top 3 ingredients, opt for something healthier or, better yet, bake or cook it yourself. This way, you are in complete control of the ingredients and the final product. Additionally, avoid convenience food as much as possible. These usually have higher levels of additives, preservatives and food dyes.

3. Opt for a high protein / low carbohydrate diet.

Eating a diet that is high in protein with plenty of good fats and low in carbohydrates will better regulate sugar fluctuations which will, of course, better regulate energy levels. High carbs can lead to the “spike and crash” syndrome which make those with ADHD miserable, and even those who don’t have ADHD as well.

4. Eat at regular intervals.

Eating at regular intervals throughout the day helps keep concentration levels even and less irritation erupts. This is called “grazing” and is highly recommended for those struggling with ADHD. With this being said, offer a variety of foods from as many food groups as possible at each meal or snack.

5. Eat lots of fruit and lots of veggies!

Mix them up with various dips to avoid boredom and mix up the colours to ensure you’re getting the various nutrients that each fruit and veggie provides. The more colour you have, the more nutrients, phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals you will get throughout the day.

6. Limit cereals, and if you do eat them, count ten steps from the beginning of the cereal aisle.

When purchasing cereals, start at the beginning of the cereal aisle (which are the cereals that usually contain high sugar and many food dyes – Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Count Chocula, etc.). Now, take ten large steps and stop. These are the cereals you can then choose from going forward from the tenth step. Key ingredients you want to look for are “whole grain” (not “wheat”) and have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.


Mindful eating plays a crucial role with ADHD and one that the entire family can embrace. Proper nutrition is an absolute must and I promise you, “garbage in = garbage out” – you get what you put into your body. Too much of the wrong food can lead to ADHD symptoms that are out of control but with a proper diet, can be manageable. I’m not saying that diet itself is the only “cure” in the multi-faceted approach to ADHD but it helps immensely.

My rule of thumb is this: “Don’t ask why healthy food is so expensive. Ask yourself why junk food is so cheap!”

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Karen Ryan is a seasoned nutritionist as well as an ADHD coach and behaviour interventionist for school-aged children and teens. She is a firm believer in the correlation between food and mood and that a clean diet is the best medicine for sound health of body and mind. Guided by her extensive education, research, and experience in nutrition and ADHD, Karen dedicates her focus to helping all people, especially children and teens with ADHD, eat healthier and live happier.

Karen is an active member of several organizations and is the founder of The ADDvocates, an organization aimed at raising awareness of ADHD. Her book, ADHD is Not a Four Letter Word: Drug Free Strategies for Managing the Gift that is ADHD is due out in June 2014.

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May 7 |

2 thoughts on “6 ways to help manage ADHD… in your kitchen

  1. sheila says:

    Please consider adding these items to the list: accumulated biotoxins such as heavy metals, molds; diseases such as Lymes; grains that the body can not digest but rather converts them to an alcohol like substance. Some children internalize emotions/emotional trama and they may come out as un focused or hyper. ADHD is very complicated and many layers to every individual, not to mention misdiagnoised or just treated with a pill.

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